Librarianship, friends, is not cool

Librarianship, friends, is not cool.

We must not say so.

But I will say so. It’s kind of my thing.

Librarianship is not cool.

Librarians are not cool.

Libraries are not cool.

Libraries are for nerds, and dorks, and outcasts, who want to dig deep into a subject and hardly come up for air.

Libraries are where you take your lunch when no one wants you to sit at their table.

Libraries are where you go when you have questions and no one to ask for the answers.

Librarians are people who have no chill, who can’t shut up, who flash and yearn to prove to people that great literature should not bores them, but if it does, then dammit, what do you want to read? We’ll find it for you. This is not cool; it will never be cool. Is it interesting? Valuable? Necessary? Perhaps. I cannot tell you what it is, only what it is not, and it is not cool. At. All. And really, has anything genuinely cool ever been called cool, (except for perhaps Miles Davis)?

Libraries and librarians aren’t beyond critique, but in Maine, we’re the most trusted professionals, second only to nurses.  On a national level, I don’t know if we even rank. But millennials, eaters of avocado toasts and shunners of house buying and payers of student loan debt, they love us. Doesn’t that count for something?

On one hand we are Henry, the other, Mr Bones. On both hands, we are utterly fantastical and boring as buttered toast all at once. No, I won’t explain that further; do your research.

Another thing we are not, and cannot be, is all things to all people, either as employees or institutions. That way madness lies.

And, nerds, sorry to break it to you, but: libraries are about stories. Go ahead and fight me about this. I DARE YOU. (see above, re: NO CHILL.) I’m tired of “libraries are more than books blah blah blah axe body spray chicken fries” because, yeah, sure, whatever, I get it, it’s great, but at the end of the day, whether it’s in a book or at a board meeting, libraries are about stories. And speaking of books:

The act of borrowing printed books is still by far the most popular activity at libraries, even compared with using computers: 64% of library users ages 16 and older checked out a book in the last 12 months, compared with 29% who used a computer at the library in the same time frame. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/libraries-2016/

So get over it, nerd. You are, on the whole, a trustworthy, punk ass book jockey with no chill, who is neither sinner nor saint nor good red herring. Your job, your career, has value, but it cannot save the world–but it can make the world a bit more interesting. You’re not cool and will probably never be cool.

And that’s fine.

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Management According to Hamilton: Alexander Hamilton

 

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Alexander Hamilton

Their name is Alexander Hamilton, and don’t you forget it. In fact, you couldn’t, even if you tried. This employee doesn’t usually stay around too long, but when they’re in your organization,  you can’t avoid hearing their name. They work their way into the best projects and onto the most interesting committees, and make their voice heard. If you don’t give your Alexander Hamilton enough challenges and opportunities, you’re going to lose your Alexander Hamilton.

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The Work Style of the Hamilton

The Hamilton doesn’t usually come in early, but they’ll often stay late. They can’t help but overhear conversations and jump in to offer their opinion, as well as three or four observations or solutions that hadn’t been previously considered. When they’re engaged, they’re laser focused and their productivity is off the charts. When they’re bored, they can be cranky and irritable and come across as the worst employee you’ve ever had, when that is not the case at all. Keep your Hamilton engaged with high profile projects and problems that require creative solutions. Have your Hamilton work on teams that need some inspiration and energy injected into their work.

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The Career Path of the Hamilton

The Hamilton moves through the ranks quickly. If they stay at an organization long-term, it’s often because opportunities for growth, challenge, and promotions are available. Hamilton starts out as a page and becomes a manager within five years, if their talent and drive are recognized and nurtured. If you ignore your Hamilton they’ll be gone within two years, if not sooner.

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Managing an Alexander Hamilton

This go-getter thrives on praise, challenge, and variety. Give your Alexander Hamilton ample opportunity to try new things and fail. Let them get out in the community and make a name for themselves. You’ll never have to push your Alexander to work better or harder, you’ll just have to reign them in when their reach gets too far. Make sure your Alexander is on a team that complements them rather than competes with them. Let your Alexander be a leader for a while before giving them formal managerial or supervisory duties–they need time to figure out their style and get their attention seeking behavior out of their system.

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Being Managed by an Alexander Hamilton

If your Hamilmanager has been around for a while and they’ve gained enough personal glory, they can be excellent managers, especially to other Hamiltons. If they’ve been promoted too soon, however, they’re going to compete with their employees rather than nurture them, and you’re going to end up with a dissatisfied, under-producing team. If you’re competing with your Hamilmanager, try to position yourself as a comrade rather than the competition. Ask to take on assignments or tasks that don’t interest your Hamilmanager, and that will put you in their good graces while also allowing you to gain experience.

 

libraries are not neutral spaces, and neither is the human heart

I’ve heard it in more than one training and workshop that part of customer service is when you’re faced with an unhappy or even irate patron, you should consider what has happened in their day, their week, their life, up until that very moment, that might be causing their distress. If there is an outburst, it’s very rarely about the fine or the missing item. It’s about the coffee they spilled in their car on their commute, or how their father always yelled at them when they misplaced things, and how once they had to go to school in the snow wearing only sandals because they’d lost their winter boots.

So it goes with those who work in libraries; we all have our own stories, chains of events and people that have created the person we are today. Our stories make us. Our stories are who we are. We share these narratives when appropriate, and listen to the narratives of others when required. (I’ve said before that all library service is made up of stories.)

I’ve been thinking about people and their stories very much these days. How the narratives black soldiers live can lead them to violence. How the narratives we perpetuate about the monstrosity of black men and boys leads to horrific murders that go unpunished.

I’ve heard these stories. My father had a derogatory name for Junior Mints that I won’t repeat. He also told me I could marry any man I wanted, but not a black man, because my father didn’t want any “[mixed] grandbabies.” (My father is no longer a part of my life, for this and many other reasons).

I’ve also heard other stories. My mother told me about her home ec teacher, Mrs. Hill, a woman who my mother greatly admired and adored. Hearing positive feelings for a black person was a revelation for me.

When my little brother was still very little and didn’t know much about the world, he called black people who stopped by our summer farm stand to buy fruit and vegetables “chocolate pudding people.” We watched Alex Haley’s Queen together, and when he asked me about what was happening, I talked to him as honestly and frankly about racism as  I could. He listened, and then went off to ponder some more; my mother came in and thanked me for talking to him about it.

Yet once when I was riding the bus and a black man struck up a perfectly pleasant conversation with me about chili recipes (I had a bag full of chili fixings with me, fresh from a trip to the grocery store), I was nervous and uneasy and, while not rude, not very polite, either; and to this day I can still see his expression–a mixture of resignation and anger, perhaps?

This is why we need diverse books. This is why there can never be enough. Black boys and girls need to hear stories about themselves as brave, resourceful, funny, beautiful, charming, sad, and more; and white children need to hear the same (about children who are not white). I wish I could find it written down somewhere, but at the Illinois Library Association conference, Shankar Vedantam said that it’s been shown that it is not enough to just have a black character doing something good in a story; for most audiences, that has to be explicitly pointed out for the story to have its greatest impact, on all children.

I sometimes cry on my way to work if I see a black or brown face in the cars next to me on the road, I hope that they don’t get stopped that day, or any day. I see children in the library and I want to tell them that I see them, that I have stories for them, that their stories are worth listening to.

I’m listening, no matter how much it breaks my heart.

It’s the least I can do.

image CC (Rosa Trieu/Neon Tommy)

 

Why Kids Need to Read What They Want

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Is this how we want kids to act when it comes to reading? / flicker, C. Bitner

In the most recent edition of Cover to Cover by K.T. Horning, there are no early childhood, middle grade, or ya distinctions in books for children. Encompassing fiction and nonfiction, the breakdown is:

  • Picture books (including board books)
  • Readers/Beginning Readers/Easy Readers
  • Transitional books
  • Chapter books

That’s it. We have those formats, and within those formats, every genre is covered, for ages birth to teen. (Oh, but wait–where should graphic novels go? I’d include them with chapter books, honestly; the art in a graphic novel serves as a concurrent visual text, in my opinion. Or, heck, let’s put them in with picture books, maybe? I don’t have all the answers, clearly.)

In my ideal, imaginary library, this is how it would be– those formats would be organized, so kids who are being read to can find board and picture books, pre-readers can find the books they need, transitional readers the same, and then chapter books for independent readers who can make their own choices (with guidance from their parent/guardian and, ideally, a librarian). There would be a call number, and no other designations– no guided reading, or any of that other stuff. Just books and excellent staff and seemingly limitless choices. (I’m getting chills just writing about it.)

Does a library like this exist? Probably not. Although my personal library is like this. I’m sure everyone’s personal library is like this. So why do we insist that youth follow dozens of arbitrary guidelines when it comes to the stories they get to read?

Anyway. This summer I tried something different with our suggested reading book lists, in an attempt to create a small scale version of this literary utopia. I wanted to move away from parents just grabbing the list of their child’s grade, and slavishly following those suggestions we’d made, with the best of intentions. Instead of lists covering 2 grade levels, as had been the practice in the past, I had:

  • Pre-readers (babies-Kindergarten): includes board and picture books, all genres
  • Beginning readers (K-3rd): easy/beginning readers, all genres
  • Transitional Third Grade reads: transitional chapter books, all genres
  • Third Grade and Up: picture, beginning, transitional, and chapter books, all genres

Now, there isn’t just one Third Grade and Up list, oh no. There were several, with titles like:

  • Smile Diary: books for Wimpy Kid and Telgameier Fans
  • Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling
  • WONDERing what to read next: Wonder readalikes
  • Full STEAM ahead: books for kids who like to tinker and create
  • Myths, Magic and More: fantasy, science fiction, and the just plain strange
  • Game On: books for gamers
  • Tell Me A Story: books about the magic of storytelling
  • That’s Funny: Books to make you laugh
  • Can You Believe It?: Books to make you see the world in a different way

The books were listed not in alphabetical order, but rather in order of literary and thematic complexity.

To explain, each list had an introduction like this:

3rd Grade and Up

Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling!

If you enjoy scary stories, thrilling tales of true crime, forensic science, and the unexplained, then these books are for you!

Read from the beginning of the list when you’re short on time but still want a good story. Read from the end of the list when you’re up for a more textually and thematically challenging experience.

Not every book on every list will be right for your child. If you have questions about any title, please see [library] staff for guidance.

Third grade and up meant just that: independent readers from third to twelfth grades (or beyond! Mom and Dad, you can read these books too!) could read these books, all of which were chosen from our children’s department collection. I wanted to do this so that an older student who wasn’t reading at grade level wouldn’t be stigmatized by reading from a list that was clearly marked for a younger age. By having only a lower limit, rather than a lower and upper, the list was more open to more readers. And by keeping the selections limited to our children’s department, we were still helping parents make appropriate choices for their child (advocate for freedom that I am, I still want to make things easier for parents, so I’m not going to hand them a third grade and up list with really intense themes and situations).

Oh, and another cool thing–the books on these lists were jointly nominated by my library staff as well as school librarians from our main school district, and they used these lists as their district’s recommended summer reading. How great is that? School librarians got to suggest awesome books that they loved, while I did all the grunt work of collating and organizing them, and our wonderful graphics department made them into beautiful brochures.

Ultimately, I wanted these lists to provide some guidance, while also encouraging kids and parents to use library staff to help them find the  best book for them.

For teens we had 7th grade and up lists, with items exclusively from the teen collection. (Now, ideally I’d want to include picture and other books, but with display and cataloging restraints, this just wasn’t possible; and, again, these teens could also enjoy all the books on the third grade and up lists.)

For teens, our themes were:

  • Social Justice: books about making the world a better place
  • Not Okay: readalikes for The Fault in Our Stars 
  • Get Real: Realistic fiction and memoirs
  • Myths, Magic and More: Fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction

I have to say, the impetus for this project was the book Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—and Why We Should Let Them. We actually recommended this title to parents in our lists, and amazingly, the book got checked out. How many people actually read it, I don’t know, but it just goes to show that if you make something available, people will take advantage.

I was concerned about confusion and push back–would parents get on board? Would they understand it? Was I creating a problem where there wasn’t one?

I don’t think so. I actually think these lists have been doing what they are meant to do–broaden the scope of what kids read, and providing guidance while also encouraging choice.

Now, summer’s not over, so the verdict isn’t completely in yet, but so far I’m going to call this a success. Books are still getting checked out at a rapid clip, I’ve heard people express delight at the themes, and so far no one has been upset that a book about the Lizzie Borden case was on the “Murder and Mayhem” list (really, with a title like that, I was suspecting parents of sensitive kids would know to steer clear).

What do you think? How do you handle suggested reading/passive reader’s advisory?

 

 

 

 

Stuck in the Middle With You

I don’t like the term middle grade, even though I love a lot of books that fall under that umbrella. Middle grade books are not for middle schoolers, but the confusing terminology flummoxes a lot of teachers and parents.

If you’re also unclear, here’s the breakdown:

Middle grade= a publishing classification; literature for 8-12 year olds.

Middle school=students in 6th-8th grade, typically. Ages 12-14.

Tweens: pre-adolescents (preadolescene being “a stage of human development following early childhood and preceding adolescence), generally between the ages of 10-13. Blend of “in between” and “teen.” Used as a term for reckless twenty something Hobbits in Tolkien’s books.

Some middle schoolers are tweens, but not all tweens are middle schoolers.

Middle schoolers are more likely to be reading teen books, occasionally enjoying middle grade choices (Wonder and The One and Only Ivan are a couple of MG titles that I know appeal to middle school students).

This is a great article that breaks down the difference between middle grade and young adult books. I particularly like this section:

MG vs. YA Readers
Middle-grade is not synonymous with middle school. Books for the middle-school audience tend to be divided between the MG and YA shelves. So which shelf do those readers go to? While there is no such thing as a ’tween category in bookstores, there are degrees of maturity in both MG and YA novels that’ll appeal to the younger and older sides of the middle-school crowd. A longer, more complex MG novel with characters who are 13 could take place in middle school and be considered an “upper-MG novel.” But the material can’t be too mature. It’s still an MG novel, after all, and most readers will be younger. Writing a sweeter, more innocent YA? Then it’s pretty likely that your readers will be ’tweens, that your characters should be around 15 years old, and that your book will be marketed as a “young YA.”

While it’s useful for you to understand these nuances as you craft your story and relate to your true audience, when it comes time to submit, don’t go so far as to define your novel as upper MG or younger YA in your query. That’s already pointing to a more limited readership. Instead, just stick to calling it either MG or YA when you submit, and let an interested agent draw conclusions about nuances from there.

So here’s my philosophy (which I’ll expound on further and in more detail in an upcoming blog post): I think for children and teens, programs and spaces need to be clearly defined and specifically tailored; baby lapsit is so very different than a teen maker program, and so it goes for every developmental stage in between. What youth needs socially, emotionally, and physically varies greatly as they grow.

However, in terms of your collection (and here I am only concerned with what they’re reading), once a kid reaches about third grade and is an independent reader, I think things should be much more open.

What do I mean? Well, first of all, stop labeling your books. No more E for easy on the picture books, or J for juvenile, or any of that. You just have fiction and nonfiction in a variety of formats. Board books, beginning readers, and transitional books are pulled out, because those are very tailored to their audience for developmental reasons. The rest? All one big pile.* Picture books through chapter books, arranged by genre, perhaps. But no other labels. Have a kids’ collection that goes up to, say, sixth grade, and then a teen collection that’s 7th grade and up. But both collections include picture books.

Is this practical? Probably not. Would any library dare do this? Probably not. Is it a better way to organize literature and resources for youth? I believe so.

Stay tuned for another post about this idea of “reading unbound.” In the mean time, read more about  those tricky tweens and how to serve them.

The Trouble with Tweens

Tweens, teens, and twentysomethings: a history of words for young people

What do Tweens Want? 

Teen/Tween Spaces

Teen Space Guidelines (does there need to be one for Tweens?)

Sign up for SLJ’s “Be Tween” newsletter.

*an organized, and definitely not literal, pile.

Wolf Hollow review

Wolf HollowWolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

Cross The Bad Seed with To Kill A Mockingbird and add a dash of Night of the Hunter, King Lear (“I would fain learn to lie,” says the Fool), and Rebecca (the first line of this book is just as haunting as “Last night I dreamt of Manderly again”), and the result will most likely be this taut, beautiful terror of a book. I finished it all in one night because I couldn’t stop reading.

This is definitely getting book-talked in the fall of 2016. The students are going to be clamoring for this one.


Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

View all my reviews

for you, a Thanksgiving Casserole of Randomness

So, here’s a bunch of disjointed notes with very little context from a small notebook I found again recently. I think most of them are from the Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough that I attended in 2008? or 2009? Enjoy!

Coffeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

Kids doing rubic’s cubes

Irish–Pat
Latin–Mendoza
Makes me a Leprecano

Y’all hush now, it’s Doug Elliot’s turn

(Choich) Foist Church birthday

Snake eating an egg out of his hand

Windham

hide the switch–
and whatever kid found it could switch the other kids
“Happy birdy doo doo” [with drawing of bird singing “doo doo”]
Sat up in bed–“I can play the comb!” And you can do it, too. It’s healthy!

Francis would eat all the cookie dough– she toined out real well.

Comb & wax paper played right through the Methodist hymn

Even when I was seven I thought the plagues were… Wagnerian.

a humorless masoleum of a woman

Feel like 40 miles of bad road

There’s a man at the door-I think he’s here to rape us.

I just wanted her to enjoy the snake!

It was time to go see if my Grandmother was dead.

“The Narrows”

Wide mouthed like the bass we just ate for supper.

“He told me, ‘Question everything.’

“‘Why?’

“‘Good, you’ve got it.'”

The old lady committee for being angry about stuff.

Ben Haggarty–frock coat–HAWT!

at the same moment her two sisters realized the same thing–that’s called morphic resonance

When I was scared by scary stories–my grandmama told me not to worry, vampires don’t bite Black people.

A trick or a marvel. 3 lies that are not lies. They made a journey–it wasn’t long and it wasn’t short.

I prayed to God to tell Jesus to ask Santa to get me the squirrel monkey. -Kevin Kling

Uh huh. We call it a thunder bucket.

reader feed round-up

Here’s some blogs that I’ve been enjoying recently:

  • Teacher Tom, a blog about early childhood and how kids learn and explore.
  • Maria’s Movers, a very niche blog about incorporating literacy in movement and vice-versa; a great resource for anyone who presents a program similar to my Mini Movers. Found via someone’s blog…I can’t remember, I read so many! But thanks!
  • Storytiming, a storytime-focused blog.
  • Ask A Manager, a great resource for manager/HR/job seeking/job retention type questions.
  • Judging a Book by Its Cover: just that, John looks at a book cover and guesses what the story will be about. “Dedicated to the unfortunate practice of judging books by their covers. A fresh look at Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror and Urban Fantasy book covers.”
  • New Cover: Matt reads a book, then recovers it. Beautiful work. Reminds me of Travis’s recovering the Newbery project.
  • The Hairpin. Reminds me of old school Jezebel, Sassy in its heyday, and if ForeverYoungAdult applied its brand of critique to the wider world.

music! for kids!

Hey, check out my guest post over at Little Big. It’s all about kid music that doesn’t suck, and  I think it is one of my better blogs posts. It was a joy to do a favor for one of my favorite twitter folk, too.

In other news, look forward to some posts about my coworker Miss Stephanie’s adventures at BEA, and a post about advocating for teen spaces.